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More than 200 plan to attend race seminar

Monday, October 26, 2009  
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By Corina Curry
Posted Oct 26, 2009 @ 10:18 PM

ROCKFORD — The guest list for the YWCA’s National Conversation on Race is topping 225 people and features names like Mayor Larry Morrissey and Superintendent LaVonne Sheffield as well as a host of other community leaders representing public and private sectors.

Today is the last day to get in on the one-of-a-kind seminar that will take place Thursday night and all day Friday at Rockford College. Registrations will be taken at the YWCA until 5 p.m. 

Event inquiries are “pouring in now,” YWCA CEO Kris Kieper said. “It displays a readiness in our community to talk about this issue.”

Lee Mun Wah, one of the nation’s leading educators on diversity, will lead participants in a series of conversations and exercises on racial barriers and understanding.

Race and race relations have become leading topics of conversation and debate in recent months in Rockford.

A number of community leaders have said that the fatal police shooting of a black man who ran and hid from police officers in the basement of a predominantly black church in August opened a wound in the city. It caused a number of issues involving race that were quietly brewing under the surface to loudly boil over in town hall-style meetings, protests, rallies and marches.

“It’s not about one person is wrong or one person is right,” Mun Wah said in a telephone interview from his Berkeley, Calif., home. “What I’m trying to help people take a look at is that they have to widen their toolbox around communications. What we have in this country is everybody getting very polarized. We’re getting people saying ‘No, no, no’ or ‘reverse racism,’ generalizing or labeling people rather than being curious and asking questions. ... There are a number of issues going on in Rockford that people need to begin asking questions about rather than making statements to each other so they can begin to find out what is the anguish, what is the hurt, what is the context, why do people react the way they do?”

The hope of the event is to bring the issue of race to the table in a nonthreatening manner, Kieper said.

Amy Diaz, Rock Valley College vice president of student development, will be one of a handful of people representing the college at the seminar.

“It’s an issue that’s critical to our community and our students given the climate in our community. We saw that same climate on our campus, too,” Diaz said. “For us, it was the notion of our football program being closed down and the questions of how that made people feel and how we dealt with that decision.”

The Rockford School District is sending about 80 people to the seminar, including Sheffield, members of her leadership team, school police officers and principals.

“Rockford’s public schools serve an increasingly diverse student population. To provide our students with the world-class education they deserve, we must meet them where they are. That means many things, including that we understand and are sensitive to cultural differences,” Sheffield said. “It is no secret that Rockford has an achievement gap in its public schools and other areas where data reveals racial disparities, such as discipline. Conversations around race aren’t easy, so I commend the YWCA for providing leadership.”


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